PAINTED SNAKE IN A PAINTED CHAIR is a story
of five long-time friends, whose unexpected friendship is as solid and
intense as a family’s. The character’s stories unfold in a
manner that induces the sensation of reading a novel: one savors the discovery
of seemingly disparate events until they are ultimately linked together.
The house where they meet also functions as a character in the play. When
they gather there they feel hyper-real and larger-than-life. On the evening
in which the play is set, they gather to expel a swarm of bees that have
moved into the attic. As a result, the house reveals some of its mysterious
secrets. Music amplifies the heightened sense of meaning the friends have
when they are together. It pours forth suddenly from unexpected places:
when someone lifts the lid of a pot of soup, switches on a lamp, or sinks
down onto a sofa, drenching the atmosphere with mystery, hunger, fear
Paul Zimet, artistic director of The Talking Band, will direct PAINTED
SNAKE IN A PAINTED CHAIR with designers Nic Ularu (set), Carol Mullins
(lights), Kiki Smith (costumes), choreographer Karinne Keithley and featuring
Diane Beckett, Gary Brownlee, Randolph Curtis Rand, Steven Rattazzi, Tina
Shepard, Louise Smith and "Blue" Gene Tyranny on keyboards.
The Talking Band’s unique use of music as an equal voice in the
narrative is essential to their productions, where song, rhythms and melodies
are not forms of accompaniment, but are an integral part of the storytelling.
This is a company that collaborates with musicians, actors and poets to
create productions of rich, energetic language and musical expressions.
Since 1974, The Talking Band has produced over 30 productions –
the popular Betty Suffer series, written and composed by Ellen Maddow,
Obie and Bessie Award winning plays, and recently, the critically acclaimed
Bitterroot. and Star Messengers. Ellen Maddow is a founding member of
The Talking Band, and has composed for and performed in most of its works.
Ellen received the 1999 Frederick Loewe Award in Musical Theater (along
with librettist Paul Zimet).
Her work has received Meet the Composer grants, ASCAP Special Awards,
a Villager Music Composition Award, a Village Voice OBIE, and a 1996 McKnight
National Playwrighting Fellowship. For more information on The Talking
Band, log onto www.talkingband.org.
This Production is made possible with the public funds from The New York
State Council on the Arts, a State Agency and the National Endowment for
the Arts. It is also made possible with additional support from The American
Funding from Meet the Composer, Inc. is provided with the support of
the New York Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural
Affairs, ASCAP, the Virgil Thompson Foundation, the Jerome Foundation,
JPMorgan Chase, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the Eleanor Naylor
Dana Charitable Trust and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Talking Band website
NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW
by D. J. R. BRUCKNER
January 22, 2003
Memories That Stop to Visit for a While and Then Drift Away
Four friends gather in an old house infested with bees that drop
from the ceiling and walls in the Talking Band's "Painted Snake
in a Painted Chair," playing at La MaMa through Feb. 2. They
are not the only pests in these people's lives; there are mice,
ants, cows, doves, pets that leave droppings around, even a secret
snake — or is that slitherer just a sleep-walking ghost of
a python called Cher?
Emblems, all, of what bedevil these humans: memories that are all
life leaves us but that come and go at will. The structure of the
play, written and composed by Ellen Maddow and directed by Paul
Zimet, is profoundly musical. Characters often break into songs
you want to join, and occasionally into sophisticated musical nonsense,
as when their separate recollections of a country outing spiral
into a cantata of moos, coos and hiccups that comes back to you
in memory hours later as an exquisite reprise of songs preceding
Even the dialogue is shaped like music. It sounds like cutting,
fast New York street talk, but you soon realize that all the characters
are talking mostly to themselves and they are getting not replies,
but variations on themes. And every movement is choreographed in
countable dance time, from chases to hand-holding in a sink full
of dishes to gravity-defying lapses into rigid ecstasy.
As usual, Talking Band collects a superbly disciplined and experienced
cast. The characters are some of the funniest people you are likely
to meet this year. But you feel a loneliness in them that tugs at
you. Through much of the story two people exist only in memory:
one who died young and another driven away by the four friends as,
well, a pest. But both come back in the end, the first as a spirit
brought to life by the affection of the others and the second brazenly
alive, to remind the four of what they did to him. At this point
the play cuts so close to real life that it may make you a bit uncomfortable.
The actor who creates what is perhaps everyone's favorite character
gets no biography in the playbill: a rabbit called Bernard who is
a key to the plot's final resolution. In fact the conduct of this
actor, a real rabbit, is so decorous that Bernard throws a revealing
light on the near lunacy of all the other characters. The audience
noisily adores him.